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'Magic City' on Starz intensifies Miami mob activity

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By Randy Cordova
Thursday, June 13, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Starz had a cult hit with “Magic City,” a steamy, explosive drama set in 1959 Miami about a casino owner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his dangerous dealings with a hot-tempered mobster(Danny Huston).

Gorgeously produced in Miami, the show returns for its second season June 14, and Huston promises even more fireworks between his Ben Diamond and Morgan's Ike Evans.

Question: What changes can we expect in Season 2?

Answer: The powers are certainly opening up. We now have an influence from Chicago in a new character being introduced by James Caan. In a way, he is Meyer Lansky to my Bugsy Siegel. He is coming to control me, but he is quite paternal in a godfather kind of way.

Q: That sounds appropriate.

A: (Laughing) It is. Then, there's this other dynamic of trying to get the casinos up and running in Cuba, and being involved with the mob trying to get rid of Castro. Then, for Ben, he also has a certain amount of time on his hands. He's a fallen emperor in a way, and with that comes a whole sexual depravity which is actually quite shocking.

Q: You say “sexual depravity” and I just have to ask you to clarify.

A: (Laughing) Well, you know, it's this terribly sordid triangle between Ben and Lily (Ben's wife) and Stevie (Ike's son). He can potentially use that in regards to damaging Ike, who he really wants to own. And with that comes this strange sexual triangle, in which Ben likes to observe them, as if on a one-way mirror.

Q: Caan seems like he'd be quite a force to work with.

A: He's incredibly dynamic and wonderful to perform with. There's a real danger there that is (palpable). In a sense, he's the real deal. My nickname in the series is “The Butcher,” and I think his father was actually a butcher. He's also very present as an actor. In one scene, I was shouting at him, and he goes, “Don't shout at me in my home!” (Laughing) I was offending Jimmy, not the character.

Q: You and Morgan have had electric scenes together.

A: I absolutely adore working with him. He's got this Robert Mitchum feel. He's wonderfully direct, yet you don't really know what he knows or what game he's playing. He's got a great poker face, and it makes Ben have to really search to know him.

Q: Your character could go over-the-top, but you always manage to ground him to reality. Is that tough?

A: I suppose that most men with that kind of power don't really have to overstate their presence or raise their voices unless it's in a moment of vigor. I think that gives him a certain ease.

Q: How much do the clothes and the jewelry and the suntan add to the character?

A: (Laughing) Well, I think it requires a great deal of courage on my part to wear the kind of Speedos I'm sometimes required to wear. Lounging by the pool like sort of a Roman emperor with the oil rubbed on ... it just really helps. And I'm a big believer in shooting in the actual place, and Miami just helps with the heat and the humidity. Miami just exudes something.

Q: What about the smoking? You guys smoke as much as the “Mad Men” cast.

A: My apologies, but it was the period, and I suppose there is a certain nostalgia to the ignorance of not knowing it's causing harm. I do thoroughly enjoy a cigar, and again, Miami and humidity seem to add something to cigar-smoking.

Q: This is your first regular role on a TV series. Do you enjoy it?

A: What I find daunting is that, in a normal three-act format, I can know where my character is going so I can monitor my acting. With TV, you basically don't know what's going to happen. I suppose that's a little bit like life, but it's different.

Q: Is that uncomfortable?

A: Yes, but (writer-creator) Mitch Glazer is my friend and somebody whom I respect, so I know I'm in good hands.

Q: Also with a regular movie role, you do the role and you're done with it before you can get bored with it.

A: It's also strange to me that a year passes and you get back into the character, and, somehow, he feels very familiar, so you haven't really shed him. I hope I don't carry too much Ben Diamond with me in my normal life, but, obviously, he's still sort of there.

Randy Cordova is a staff writer for the Arizona Republic.

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